Musician Dave Matthews, best known for scoring hits with songs like So Much to Say and Crash into Me, is looking to turn fans onto wine. He’s added vintner to his resume, most recently by teaming up with Californian winemaker Steve Reeder, who has made award-winning wines at Chateau St. Jean and Simi in Sonoma County.
Matthews and Reeder are responsible for the Dreaming Tree label, a wine portfolio that includes a creative red blend named Crush. The name serves as a nice bridge between one of Matthews’ enduring hits — the song Crush appeared on the band’s third album and remains a fan favourite — and the art of winemaking, which requires extracting juice from ripe berries using pressure. Winemakers casually refer to the annual grape harvest as Crush.
Cynics may be quick to cast Matthews as another celebrity wannabe, looking to extend their personal brand into another field. Certainly the world of wine has no shortage of vanity projects. A Toronto street paper quickly pounced on the singer/songwriter’s venture, using the opportunity to mock his band’s music and lyrics.
But even the too-cool-for-school write-up gave grudging respect to the juice inside the Dreaming Tree bottle.
The wine bug bit Matthews long ago. He purchased a 1,260 acre parcel of land near his home in Charlottesville, Virginia that was converted to an organic farm, which tends to vegetables, grapes and livestock. The grapes are used to produce wine for Blenheim Vineyards, founded in 2000 by the pop star and partners.
Celebrities from all fields have embraced the pursuit of winemaking, hoping to trade on its culture of sophistication. Most simply license their name and likeness, leaving the technical production to the professionals. In Canada, that’s the case with ventures like celebrity sports labels created by Wayne Gretzky Estates and Mike Weir Wine.
Night owls might have recently spied movie star Drew Barrymore tasting her new Italian Pinot Grigio with Chelsea Handler on the late night gabfest, Chelsea Lately. She reportedly toured Italy tasting wine, looking for the right one to harness for her vanity project, Barrymore Wines.
Others get more immersed in the process. Actor Sam Neill and film legend Frances Ford Coppola are making great wines in New Zealand and California respectively where they own vineyards and operate wineries. Neill doesn’t trade off his star power. The Jurassic Park star’s Two Paddocks winery makes top-notch Pinot Noir that earned its place with critical praise and commercial success.
Alternately Coppola has garnered praise and condemnation for his efforts. His work to refurbish the Napa Valley’s historic Inglenook estate has proven to be inspired as its signature red, Rubicon, has become one of the region’s top wines. Neighbours, however, haven’t looked favourably on the marketing efforts associated, labeling the movie memorabilia displayed at the winery as tacky.
Sour grapes, to be sure.
There’s no doubt that celebrity sizzle helps sell wine. But, as is always the case, no amount of hype or star power will convince someone to buy a second bottle if the first one fails to deliver.
Wines of the Week:
MacMurray Ranch 2009 Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California
BC $24.95 (223545) | AB $21.99 (729858) | MB $21.99 (729858) | ON $21.95 (303990)
My Three Sons actor Fred MacMurray’s former cattle ranch in Sonoma County is now the source of distinctive wines produced by Gallo. This juicy model of Pinot Noir offers considerable charm as it gets the balance of fruit, spice and earthy notes just right.
The Dreaming Tree 2010 Crush Red Wine, North Coast, California
BC $19.99 (239384) | AB $15.99 | ON $16.95
Six different grape varieties, including Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel, are blended to create this enjoyable red that’s easy to appreciate. Some smoky notes add interest to the berry jam flavours, making for a smooth wine that will please a variety of wine drinkers regardless of what they think of the Dave Matthews Band.